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As the Japanese sweep through the East Indies during World War II, Dr. Wassell is determined to escape from Java with some crewmen of the cruiser Marblehead. Based on a true story of how Dr. Wassell saved a dozen or so wounded sailors who were left behind when able bodied men were evacuated to Australia. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
Gary Cooper did four films with Cecil B. DeMille and this is easily the best of them. Although World War II is now history at the time this film was made, the incidents described were two years old. The attack sequences were brilliantly staged in the best DeMille manner, a kind of preview of 3-D.
DeMille in his autobiography admitted that the romantic flashbacks concerning Dr. Wassell were completely made up. The real Corydon Wassell and his wife were married all the time the action of the film took place. He described as a white lie, I think one's marital status is a bit more than that. Having said that the teaming of Cooper and Laraine Day was worked well and the romance fits in nicely.
Dr. Corydon Wassell was an early hero of World War II who was a doctor in the US Navy having been previously a medical missionary in China. He was ordered to abandon his stretcher cases as the Allies were evacuating Java in 1942 before the Japanese advance. He stayed and got themsafely evacuated with a few adventures along the way. He was decorated by President Roosevelt and FDR's radio message concerning Wassell's courage inspired DeMille to make this film.
DeMille said he could only envision Gary Cooper for the part. I'm sure that was the case because of DeMille's past success with Coop, but also because the Arkansas born and bred Wassell was similar to Cooper's own Oscar winning character of Tennessee native Sergeant York.
The rest of the cast performs admirably. The most poignant scene in the film involves a woman being shot during the Japanese aerial attack on the Dutch freighter Janssen in front of her little boy. As she urges the kid to go on and not look back, if a tear doesn't come to your eye you are made of stone. DeMille's films, especially his costume pictures sometimes have some stilted Victorian dialog, but in this one there is none.
Also I'd like to single out from the supporting cast Paul Kelly who plays one of the stretcher cases. He's a griper and a complainer all the way through, but when that kid's mother is shot as I previously described, he takes charge of the little boy in a scene that is the best in the film. Also Philip Ahn who plays Cooper's oriental confidante does it with strength and dignity which were his hallmarks as an actor when so many Asian players were stereotyped.
Even if you don't like DeMille, you'll like this film.
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